Robert Ludlum is best know for his stellar work in the Bourne Trilogy – The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and the The Bourne Ultimatum. I’m reviewing the first of the three today, so let’s get right into it.
First thing’s first, I think I may have mentioned Ludlum’s famous trilogy in passing earlier. Like I said, I think it’s one of the few cases in which the movies are better than the books. I’m not saying that the books are bad, per se, but the movies did definitely improve on a lot of it. This was especially the case in the latter two books of the series. Honestly, for the first book, it’s a toss-up between which is better, the book or the movie. They are really different though, so even if you’ve seen the movie, I hope you read the review.
The Bourne Identity was written in 1980, so I’m assuming Ludlum had a lot of inspiration from all the spy games during the Cold War that dominated the three decades before it was published. It’s a spy thriller novel, so action junkies unite because this book is for you. It tells the tale of, you guessed it, a man named Jason Bourne, who finds himself on an island to begin the story. He’s suffering from amnesia, and doesn’t know how he ended up there. The doctor who healed him reveals that his amnesia is due to a bullet wound to the head. He also learns that Bourne has all the characteristics of a military man; no, not a military man, but some kind of jacked-up special agent. The two men discover a chip hidden in Bourne’s body that is the passcode to a bank in Zurich, so Bourne ventures to Switzerland.
We learn that Bourne has some extraordinary physical abilities, hinting that he’s clearly some type of special agent. He also instinctively behaves in ways that suggest that he’s some type of covert personality. In Zurich, he learns that he’s a millionaire. He also sets off alarm bells in the bank, though we don’t know why. Security, police and government agents try to capture him, and on the run he picks up a female accomplice (who he falls in love with later, duh) and manages to escape the people chasing him. In trying to remember his past, we learn that his name is synonymous with several others through a series of flashbacks. He’s also in competition with an internation assassin named Carlos. The fact that he’s competing with a hit man and being chased by governments leads us to the conclusion that Bourne too is, or at least was, an assassin.
The rest of the story is your typical high stakes action thriller, with Bourne evading his enemies while trying to get to the bottom of his past. There’s some brilliant backstory on Bourne by American undercover agenices, which basically reveal Bourne as a covert double agent who they believed turned rouge. So Bourne is being chased by everyone, and fights to figure out why. The story ends with him in confrontation with Carlos, but he manages to escape the meeting with his life. He comes to some closure with his government buddies, but there’s still some conflict left between them. (Really different from the movie, right? Potential spoilers from the movies aren’t an excuse not to read the book in this case.) The book mostly gears up for the following volumes of the series, which aren’t great. The first book is as good as it gets.
And it gets pretty good, I won’t lie. The strength of the book lies in the plot, and several subplots it entails. It’s a very intricate plot, one of the most intricate ones I’ve experienced so far. The reader needs to be alert to catch everything, because it’ll slip by you if you’re reading passively. The level of detail isn’t bad, but after being spoiled by George RR Martin, it’s nothing too special either. The characters are unique though, Ludlum uses no stock characters. The whole story and the plot is actually very unique and original, I don’t think you’ve read anything quite like this before. If it’s action and mystery you’re looking for, I don’t think you should look beyond this book.
Weaknesses? Hmm…I don’t know if there are too many in this one. It isn’t as interesting as other thrillers I’ve read, but it still holds its own. Now that I consider it, I think the reason I don’t think as highly of this book as of others is because it gets somewhat tainted by the lackluster showings that define the next two books in the series. But as a stand-alone book, this one is quite enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it to any action or mystery fan.
All things considered, I’m giving The Bourne Identity a 9.0/10. It really is a great action book, and it gains massive points in originality and creativity. The writing style is a bit archaic, but that adds to the appeal of it. If you’re looking for a good thriler, I’d certainly recommend this one. Even if you’ve watched the movie already, you’ll enjoy it, because they are two very different experiences. So yeah, if you need a good book sometime, give this read a shot.